Initially, when I was laid up, I could not read. My mind was so wracked with painkillers and my body was so wracked with pain that when I looked, the words swam around the page and darted off the screen like errant children hellbent on pissing me off. But eventually they came around. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, for me, this was a big deal. And thanks to some friends of mine, I had a lot of reading material. On the eve of my return to work, I thought I’d share with you exactly what books I read and what I thought of them. Maybe you can order somebody something great for Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever. Or maybe… just maybe… you can purchase a few for yourself and stay the hell at home over the holidays with a few good books so that next year you can enjoy them with your whole family. You know, as opposed to celebrating the ones who died of COVID-19 because you couldn’t keep your ass at home.
The Witch Tells the Story and Makes it True by Liz Kay and Devin Forst: Full disclosure, I read this one the week before my surgery. Love it. I was supposed to read it right after my surgery. It was honestly something I put aside as a reason to live through the ordeal. But once my surgery was postponed a couple weeks, I couldn’t wait. This is a collection of poetry about the archetypal witch who in Kay’s story is both that and a clearly defined character. It’s a scary, sometimes sad, sometimes empowering take on the whole concept. Forst’s art only adds to the awesome. I actually wrote quite a bit about it here.
God Save the Queen: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop by Kathy Iandoli: I actually finished this book on the eve of my surgery. In this non-fiction piece, Iandoli ventures back in time to hip-hop’s birth and leads us all the way to present day, focusing on the women who made it happen and continue to help it grow. If you like hip hop or women (I’m a fan of both), you’ll like this moving and honest story. You’ll also learn a few things.
Cerebus Volume #1 by Dave Sims: Here is one I began prior to my surgery but did not finish until after. It’s a massive tome and the first in a series of massive tomes about an aardvark who goes on some great fantasy adventures. This collection has a different tone than the others; it’s far less serious, but nevertheless a great introduction to one of the most iconic comic book characters to emerge from the late 70s surge of indy comics. Full disclosure, I tried reading Volume #2 “High Society” when I was fresh out of the hospital and realized that my drug addled mind could not handle it then, so I’m back on my Cerebus shit now.
A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab: Here it is, the first book I was able to read all the way through after my surgery. With an interesting mix of magic and science, Schwab tells the story of Kell, a man who can venture between worlds. Naturally, magical shenanigans ensue. I just found out that there are two sequels to this twisted tale set in not one, not two, but three strange otherworldly Londons, so you can bet I’ll be asking for those to be stuffed in my stocking this Christmas.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman: This is the first in a three-book series and I read all of them during my recovery. In a not all that far flung future, mankind has beaten death. But due to the fear of overpopulating Earth, there are Scythes who act as arbitrary bringers of death to mankind. Scythe is about two young people who have been chosen to “wear the robe” of the Scythe. There is intrigue, there is horror, there is drama, there is romance, there is cool sci-fi technology…. Dare I say it? This book has it all and with two sequels, there is more than enough awesome for anyone whose tastes run along the same vein as mine.
Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks: Can Brooks do wrong? I don’t think so. In fact, I’d wager this guy keeps getting better. An epistolary novel, this one might not be for everyone, but for me, a HUGE FAN of Brooks, it’s fantastic. Real talk? It’s his best work (and this is coming from someone who loves his zombie stuff). Told through Kate Holland’s journal entries as she describes the creeping unease and ultimate onslaught that happens when a small enclave of hopeful, ignorant cityfolk battle bigfoot (bigfeet?) as well as after the fact interviews between her brother, park rangers, and other experts, the greatest aspect of this novel is how legitimately REAL it feels. It’s terrifying.
Tough Boy Sonatas by Curtis Crisler and Floyd Cooper: In this collection of poetry we are given insight into what it feels like to grow up in Gary, IN, often described as “one of the worst cities to live in.” The poetry is beautiful if the subject matter is not. Having grown up in trailer parks up and down the Mississippi River, I feel a kinship with Crisler. Sure, our experiences were different, but in many ways they were also the same. I cried reading some of the poems here. Have my emotions been keyed up to an unheard of level since I survived open heart surgery? Yes. And honestly, that’s one of the best things to come of it, that and being loaned this book to read.
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman: The sequel to one of the coolest sci-fi books I’ve ever read feels a lot like Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Is there a higher complement for a sequel? No. The answer is no.
The Toll by Neal Shusterman: The final book in the “Arc of a Scythe” trilogy feels a lot like Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Is there a higher complement for a third part? No. The answer is no.
Die Volume #1: Fantasy Heartbreaker by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans: Any of you out there in reader land ever watch that 80s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon? Okay. Now, imagine that this actually happens to a bunch of kids but there are no cute little unicorns or helpful frog-looking Dungeon Masters. And the world they are pulled into is literally called “Die.” Double meaning much? Much too much. It’s just awful, the way adventuring actually would be. So, it’s great to read. Okay. Now imagine most of these kids make it out a few months later, go on to live relatively normal lives, and are, in their 40s, pulled back into the magical world of Die for more “adventures.” It’s like a simultaneous send-up and deconstruction of roll playing games and it is a great read.
Die Volume #2: Split the Party by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans: Now imagine that things get so bad in Die that the party of adventurers split, each group going its separate way. This, naturally, leads to more misery disguised as adventure, the plot thickens as events and experiences from their first foray into Die are revealed and the “players” realize nothing is as it seems. I mean, how cool does that sound?
Die Volume #3: The Great Game by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans: But wait, there’s more! The third volume in what will hopefully be a multi-volume series of comic books ratchets up the revelations, brings the party back together, and shows us that if we thought nothing was as it seemed before, we had no idea. Again, how cool does that sound? Modern fantasy adventure at it’s finest, folks.
The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by Steven Johnson: The last book I read on my road to recovery (so far) is the short non-fiction tale of Joseph Priestley, a scientist, philosopher, preacher, and all around fascinating man who made some of the greatest scientific discoveries in the history of the world… in his kitchen. Oh, also, he was buddies with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and a slew of other luminaries from our past. With ups and downs that seem unreal, Priestley’s life could be made up. But it’s not. It’s fact and proves that old adage, “truth is stranger than fiction,” is sometimes 100% true.
I also read several issues of The Immortal Hulk and various X-Men comics from the “Dawn of X” storyline. And I’m sure more than my fair share of news articles about COVID-19 and the US election. Additionally, I watched quite a bit of television.
Maybe next week I’ll share just what I watched….